Well, no one saw that coming!
The results are in, and rather than the enlarged majority predicted by almost all the pundits before the election, the Conservatives have instead slipped backwards, losing seats and losing their prized majority.
Despite a frankly disastrous result, which would normally lead to a Prime Minister resigning, Theresa May looks today to be trying to tough it out. She has already gone to the Palace and announced her intention to form a Government.
Every sign is that the Conservatives will be dependent on a “confidence and supply agreement” with the Democratic Unionist Party, which would allow them to get parliamentary approval for their legislative programme and any future budget. The details of this agreement are now being worked on behind closed doors in Westminster. It will likely fall short of a full coalition agreement as seen in 2010 between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Far from the electoral meltdown many expected, Corbyn has in fact also confounded expectations, mobilising a remarkable army of younger and previously disenchanted voters to increase Labour’s share of the vote from 30.5% in 2015 to 40% this time. Labour have won an additional 29 seats across the country.
Corbyn has today tried to suggest that he is ready to form his own minority government, though that currently seems rather unlikely. But what is clear, is that “project Corbyn” has been more electorally successful than his internal critics ever imagined, and that the Labour leader is safer in his job than ever before.
Mixed bag for the Lib Dems
The Lib Dems had a mixed night. They slipped back slightly in terms of share of the vote, lost four seats, including that of Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam, which is a massive loss, especially given his considerable expertise on Europe and experience of high office. But the party won eight new seats, including those of former Cabinet members Vince Cable and Ed Davey, taking them to twelve overall.
Farron, who’s performance during the campaign has received some criticism, appeared happy with the result (which was far better than many in the party feared, though hardly a gamechanger) and seems confident in his job today.
UKIP had a disastrous night, with their vote collapsing from 12.7% in 2015 to 1.8%. They also lost their only Westminster MP. Paul Nuttall has this morning taken responsibility and resigned as leader.
The End of Scottish Referendum 2?
The SNP also had a terrible election, losing 21 seats north of the border, including that of former leader Alex Salmond and Westminster Leader Angus Robertson. This result will be seen as a vote against Sturgeon’s calls for a second independence referendum and it is likely to stimulate serious reconsideration on this issue.
Can May Survive?
The media is full of speculation about whether May can survive as PM. She clearly wants to, but many in her party will be ready to stick the knife in.
In May’s favour is the timetable for Brexit negotiations, which are due to begin in less than two weeks’ time. Unless a new leader can emerge with the consensus of the whole parliamentary party, it may seem unwise to delay Brexit for a full-blown leadership contest now. It is very unclear who might command that kind of unifying support, so May may be safe for now.
There is expected to be a government reshuffle over the next few days.
Without the majority that she had hoped would give her the freedom to choose a Cabinet more closely aligned with her own views, the Prime Minister may feel the need to reach out to those snubbed after Cameron’s departure in order to unify her party and shore up her own position. She may also not feel able to make some of the more dramatic moves, including Hammond’s position as Chancellor, that have been speculated about during the General Election.
Government reshuffles are also usually followed by opposition ones and it seems likely that Jeremy Corbyn will also have a wider pool of his MPs to choose from now he has proved his approach can win vote and potentially secure power.
MPs Return to Westminster
The MP’s elected yesterday will meet in Westminster for the first time next Tuesday. First order of business is to choose a Speaker (John Bercow is expected to continue) and then for each MP to be sworn in.
It will be interesting to see if Bercow is the first sacrifice made to Tory backbenchers, many of whom detest the Speaker intensely.
The new parliament formally begins the following Monday (19 June) with the State Opening of Parliament. This is expected to be a lower key affair than normal, given the unexpected nature of the election.
The Queen’s Speech will outline the Government’s new legislative programme. It is likely to be heavily dominated by the legislation required to leave the EU, but may find space for other themes of the Conservative Manifesto (potentially including: technical education, grammar schools, immigration control, social care, digital charter).
Business as Normal:
Parliamentary business returns to normal on 20 June, with several days of thematic debate on the Queen’s Speech. It is highly likely that there will be a statement on the Manchester and London Terror attacks.
There will also be a ballot for Private Members Bills in the first few weeks, which is a critical opportunity for backbenchers to propose legislation.
MPs will need to elect new Select Committee Chairs and members will be chosen reflecting the adjusted balance of the House.
Parliament will sit for just 6 weeks before rising for its long summer recess on 20 July.
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